Bryant's block on LeBron helps West to victory

BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball Writer Published:

HOUSTON (AP) -- The NBA's career scoring leader in the All-Star game, Kobe Bryant has never been just about offense.

"I'm known for my defense," Bryant said. "I can defend. I'm pretty smart with my defense."

Pretty good, too. Ask LeBron James.

Bryant blocked James' jumper, turning it into a dunk by Kevin Durant that helped the Western Conference put away the East 143-138 on Sunday.

Bryant may not leap like Blake Griffin, but he can still get up when he needs to, especially when the defenseless part of the All-Star game is over and it's time to stop somebody -- even the league's best player.

On Michael Jordan's 50th birthday, the players most often compared to him turned the final minutes into a 1-on-1 duel, and it went to Bryant -- the guy Jordan said he'd pick between the two based on his five championship rings. That's one less than MJ and four more than King James.

"It was a great block," Durant said. "I haven't really seen any MVP get a jumper blocked like that. It was a really great play."

Chris Paul had 20 points, 15 assists and won MVP honors, and Durant scored 30 points. Griffin finished with 19, joining his Clippers teammate, Paul, in creating Lob City deep in the heart of Texas.

"You just want to play fast. I like to throw the lob. I like to see guys hit 3s," Paul said. "When we're out on the court with all that firepower, why wouldn't you want to make passes? You've got KD filling one of the lanes, you've got Blake, Kobe on the wing. There's nothing like it."

Bryant added a second late block of James, the MVP of the 2006 game here after leading a big East comeback. This time, he scored 19 points but shot only 7 of 18 after making 60 percent of his shots in six straight games before the break.

Carmelo Anthony led the East with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

"I think we played really good defense at the end of the game as a team," Durant said. "Kobe was really going with the ball. It's tough to stop LeBron, but he did his best. He was able to block a few of his shots. But CP did a really good job of keeping us in the game."

The first dunk of the game came 16 seconds in, Paul throwing a pass to Griffin as part of the West's 7-0 start. The West led after each of the first three quarters, though was never ahead by more than eight points through three periods.

They finally pushed it into double figures early in the fourth fueled by former Oklahoma City teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but couldn't put it away until a late run behind the guys from the city of Los Angeles -- who along with Lakers center Dwight Howard gave Los Angeles all but one of the West's starting spots.

Paul hit two 3-pointers, Bryant made a layup, and his block of James led to Durant's dunk that made it 136-126. Griffin had one last forceful dunk to help close it out, throwing a pass to himself off the backboard and climbing high in his neon green sneakers to slam it home and make it 142-134.

Harden had 15 points in his home arena, where the sights of the game were on the floor and the sounds were at the rim -- which shook repeatedly after thunderous dunks for most of the game before, as usual, players tried to make some stops down the stretch.

Durant slammed one down so hard at one point that he stumbled backward after landing, appearing woozy. He came in as the career leader in points per game with 28.3 and may have won a second straight MVP award if not for Paul's big finish.

But the Kobe-LeBron matchup down the stretch showed that even in an All-Star game, when it's time to determine a winner, the 34-year-old Bryant is all business.

"It was all in good spirit, man. It was just two guys that love to compete, love to go at it. So I had a lot of fun," said James.

Bryant finished with only nine points, but had eight assists. Griffin shot 9 of 11 from the field and didn't miss until trying to violently throw one down from a few feet away from the basket.

Indiana's Paul George scored 17 and Kyrie Irving had 15 for the East.

Not everybody had it so easy. Chris Bosh shot two airballs in the first quarter and was booed, tossed up another in the second, and had Tony Parker dribble the ball through his legs on defense. He was even pulled down the stretch by his own coach, Erik Spoelstra, right after Bryant blew right by him for a layup.

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